A 91-year-old man, Donald Miller of Waldorn, Indiana has been found to have collected thousands of ancient artifacts over a span of 80 years and storing them in his home. The artifacts were seized by the FBI on Wednesday, who have promised to return those items which the owner had no right to possess due to federal and state laws as well as treaties. Among the items are Native American, Russian, Chinese, Peruvian, Haitian, and Australian relics as well as more from other countries.
In a news conference, Special Agent Robert Jones of the FBI called the cultural value of the artifacts “immeasurable,” but would not give detailed information on any of the items individually. He declined to offer information as to why the investigation into Miller’s collection began, but he acknowledged that the FBI had received information about the artifacts and deployed its art crime team to investigate. The monetary value of the relics has not been determined.
Miller, a world traveler who claims to have visited 200 countries, collected items from places he visited. Although some of the artifacts were not obtained through proper channels, some of the items were collected legally or prior to laws against their collection being passed. The artifacts were stored in several buildings located on Miller’s property, which was originally Iroquois land, including in the main house where he resided and a second house which is currently unoccupied. News helicopters have captured images showing an FBI vehicle and numerous tents on the property.
A neighbor of Miller’s who had seen his collection while doing work on his home told WISH-TV that she had seen a “full skeleton” and “Indiana artifacts.” Professor of Anthropology and Museum Studies Larry Zimmerman of Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis is helping the FBI with collecting, recording, and preserving the condition of the artifacts. He noted that although the quality of individual items varied, Miller had kept all of them in good condition. Zimmerman added that he had seen collections like Miller’s only in “the largest museums.”
Being able to determine how old the artifacts are as well as from where they came will take a great deal of time, especially considering that Miller amassed the collection over 80 years. Among the items discovered in his home are an anaconda skin measuring 60 feet long, jade from the Ming Dynasty, and shrunken heads.
Shawnee descendant Dark Rain Thom, who served under three governors as part of the Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission, said that artifacts are normally discovered after the death of an elderly person, whose surviving family members must determine what should be done with them.
The elderly man, a former teacher and part of the World War II Manhattan Project which built the atomic bomb, is cooperating with the FBI on their investigation and insisted to CBS News that he possessed and owned the artifacts rightfully. It has not been determined if Miller will be charged criminally for his possession of the artifacts.
By Jennifer Pfalz